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OPEN LETTER TO SNOPUD COMMISSIONERS:

To: Snohomish County Public Utilities Commission

-With CC to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

From: The Friends of Heybrook Ridge

Re: Hydroelectric Power Generation Plant at Sunset Falls, FERC Permit #14295

Dear Commissioners David Aldrich, Kathleen Vaughn, and Toni Olson,

We, the Friends of Heybrook Ridge, respectfully implore the Snohomish County PUD to discontinue efforts toward construction of a hydroelectric power generation station at Sunset Falls on the South Fork of the Skykomish River.  We further strongly recommend that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deny the request by Snohomish County P.U.D. (SnoPUD) to construct the hydroelectric plant.   Our primary reasons are that construction of such a project is: 1) in violation of the letter and the spirit of the law; and 2) against the long-term vision held by the public for the Skykomish Valley.

Who We Are

The Friends of Heybrook Ridge (FOHR) is a non-profit organization based in Index, Washington.  Our mission is to support Heybrook Ridge County Park, whose creation in 2008 was made possible by our purchase of 130 acres of timberland scheduled for clear cutting, and donation of the land to Snohomish County Parks and Recreation.  Heybrook is an impressive ridge 1 mile north of the proposed hydro project; the ridge bifurcates the North and South Forks of the Skykomish River from their confluence just west of the town of Index (population 160).  FOHR continues to be the local steward for “SnoCo Parks”, with whom we enjoy a mutually respectful and appreciative relationship. [1]

The Law

FOHR is one of multiple organizations that have worked for years to acquire land for public use in the Skykomish River valley and to protect it from inappropriate developments, including hydropower projects.  Our legislators responded over 35 years ago: the Washington State Scenic Rivers Program began in 1977 with the passage of the Scenic River System Act (SSRA), RCW 79.72.[2]  Its purpose was to protect and preserve rivers of “exceptional quality”, that is, “rivers possessing outstanding natural, scenic, historic, ecological, and recreational value.”  A criterion for inclusion was that the river must be “…free-flowing without diversions that hinder recreational use.”  The first State Scenic River chosen was the Skykomish.[3]

The Scenic River System Act also asserts that “It is the policy of this state that certain selected rivers…shall be preserved in as natural a condition as practical…” This phrase is the act’s acknowledgment that it is not practical to restore natural flow in all cases. There may be any number of already-legal structures that affect natural flow, such as riprap embankments, irrigation diversions, fish-ladder diversions, and bridge piers, and since any river may potentially be nominated for scenic status, there had to be a mechanism to exempt the already-legal developments. But direction for future management is clear: maintain the natural flow of the river whenever possible. To legally build a new hydroelectric project (dam or other structures) on a State Scenic River one would have to make the case that there are absolutely no other practical alternatives for power supply.   This case has not been made.

Practical?

We join multiple others who challenge the practicality of SnoPUD’s proposed hydroelectric project at Sunset Falls.[4]  How is it practical to build a generation plant whose output is mistimed for local and northwest regional power needs?  Nearly half of the average monthly generation forecast by SnoPUD occurs in April, May, and June[5], a 3-month stretch of low NW power needs and low market prices.   The hydroelectric plant would operate at a far lower capacity factor for 6 months of the year when NW needs are high (January-April and October-December) and be essentially shut down for the remaining 3 months of July-October, a time when excess power could arguably be sold to energy-thirsty consumers elsewhere, when market prices tend to be highest, thus reducing local prices at times of true need for affordable power in our region.

How is it practical to build access roads for huge construction vehicles in an area recently devastated by landslides, roads that would be reached via the infamously dangerous US Highway 2?  Note too that the new “dam-less” project features would be built at the toe of previous landslides above Sunset Falls.  The list of impracticalities is much longer than this letter can cover.  But these examples should underscore the degree to which SnoPUD’s proposal is in violation of the Scenic River System Act’s core mandate to be practical in protecting its rivers.

The SSRA specifically states “All state government agencies and local governments are hereby directed to pursue policies with regard to their respective activities, functions, powers, and duties which are designed to conserve and enhance the conditions of rivers which have been included in the system, in accordance with the management policies and the rules adopted by the commission for such rivers.”[6]  The Snohomish County Public Utility District cannot and should not claim exemption from the State Scenic River Act.  It follows that FERC should reject all SnoPUD proposals for hydropower development at Sunset and Canyon Falls.

 Public Land Vision

In 1986, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission (SSRC) initiated active management of the State Scenic Rivers Program.  A Citizens’ Advisory Board (SKYCAB) was created to formalize citizen involvement in 1988.  SKYCAB represented river users, landowners, forest managers and concerned citizens.[7]

Together, SKYCAB and SSRC published the “Skykomish Scenic River Recreational Access Study” in 1990.  The final paragraph of its study’s summary stated, “People of the valley, and people from without the valley share a respect and admiration for the resource that is the Skykomish River.”[8]   Significantly, one of the primary goals of the study’s final recommendations was to “Restrict hydropower development, in accordance with existing and future statutes”[9].   And one of the 6 high priority sites identified for such restriction was Sunset Falls[10].

We hope to impress on FERC our perspectives from Heybrook Ridge.  The Ridge enjoys a central location in a connectivity of public lands that stretches from Wallace Falls State Park to the west (the Wallace River empties into the Skykomish at Sultan), through the Department of Natural Resources’ Reiter Foothills Forest, on to the Forks of the Sky State Park and the Climbers’ Access to the famed Index Wall, into Index town by way of the Crescent Trail and the town’s Doolittle Park, across the North Fork of the Skykomish River via the town bridge, and south up Heybrook Ridge, where stunning views of Mt. Index, Bridal Veil Falls, Sunset Falls, and Canyon Falls are beheld.  (Views of Sunset and Canyon Falls would be markedly diminished with the hydro project’s reduction of their flow.)  The Heybrook Ridge County Park’s trails will soon connect easterly to the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and finally, the Wild Sky Wilderness.  Surely you can see the pattern here: although under multiple public agencies’ ownership now, all are focusing on preservation and recreational development of public land.

Our immediate goal is to prevent damage to the Skykomish River at Canyon and Sunset Falls, including views and access, that would be unavoidable were SnoPUD’s hydro project to be built and operated.  Our mid-term vision is that this Scenic River will achieve “Wild and Scenic” designation and protection, and that public access will be expanded.  Our long-term dream is that we will create a connected long, stretched-out park whose heart is the Skykomish River Valley.

Denying SnoPUD’s requests to FERC for an impractical and unwanted hydroelectric project is a critical and essential step.

Thank you,

Ann Darlington

President, BOD, Friends of Heybrook Ridge

 


[1] See our website at www.heybrookridge.org for details and further information

[2] See http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=79A.55

[3] Protected segments to include 14 miles of the river from the town of Sultan to the confluence of the North and South Forks just west of the town of Index, 11 miles up the North Fork (to Bear Creek), 34 miles up the South Fork up the Tye River and 8 miles more up the Beckler River

[4] For local examples, see the Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee’s “Resolution in Opposition to Snohomish PUD’s Proposed Sunset Falls Hydro Project on the Skykomish River and in Favor of Requesting a Study of Wild and Scenic Designation”, filed with FERC on 4/22/14, and the Save the Sky River Coalition @ www.savetheskyriver.org/; for a national perspective, see American Whitewater website @ http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Article/view/id/31739/

[5] See Table 5.2-3 on p. 78 and Figure 5.3-1 on p. 100 of the SnoPUD’s Pre-Application Document to FERC at http://www.snopud.com/Site/Content/Documents/sfpep/SFFERCDocs/PAD_Part1.pdf

[6] See http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=79A.55.040

[7] Skykomish Scenic River Recreational Access Study, by WA State Parks Scenic River Program, December 1990.

[8] As above, Appendix B, p.44

[9] As above, Appendix 2, p.43

[10] As above, p.21

IMPORTANT NOTICE:

SnoPUD engineers are FINALLY going back to the drawing board.

Partially in response to negative feedback from the public on the exceedingly high impacts of its original design, SnoPUD is drastically altering several of its proposed project features.

Most notable is the omission of the dam and right abutment which was a major source of concern for project opponents.  Under its new proposal, no dam would be built.

Water would still be diverted from the natural deep pool just upstream from Canyon Falls and then re-routed through a huge tunnel.

Another major design change is that the intake cavern would be mostly eliminated and the fish screens would be located further downstream.

The main reduction in negative impacts are that there will be much less rock blasting and hauling, and less chance of contamination from naturally occurring toxins.  There will be no dam built on quicksand and the community beach will be spared destruction.

The preliminary design change info can be found by Clicking here.

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Click Here for Tips on Writing Effective Comments

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Fisheries Co-Manager’s Comment on Studies:

Click to Read the response of the Tulalip Tribes to SnoPUD’s refusal to conduct necessary fisheries studies.

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February 8, 2014 Update:

Greetings Everyone,

If you’ve been wondering what’s going on with SnoPUD and FERC, the Bottom Line is that on Jan 30th FERC made its final recommendations for the different studies. SnoPUD has to do over the next year or more.    Some of the high points of those recommendations. that aren’t necessarily what SnoPUD wanted, are:

* All stakeholders must be advised of preliminary study results and permitted to have input; not just agencies and tribes.

* PUD must correct their misleading photomontages to include all project features such as jib crane mounts, access roads, 6000 foot mountains in the background that were previously cropped out of the photos, etc.

* PUD will not be allowed to segregate agencies and tribes, NGO’s and the public in the aesthetics / recreation focus groups.

*  PUD must include the key observation point at Lake Serene in the focus groups aesthetic and recreation studies.

* PUD must have either a state or federal geologist review the findings and conclusions from SnoPUD’s contracted geologist.  (I believe this is based on the assertion from the PUD contracted geologist in December that the landslide would not likely have more major movements….and then the rest of the hill fell away in January!)

* PUD must do a traffic study in the summer, when traffic on Route 2 is at its peak.  

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We made a difference to FERC!!!  Slogging through SnoPUD’s 622 pages wasn’t much fun, but thanks to the people who did (and who understood what they were reading), and who wrote to FERC.   We should all be encouraged that we are being heard and making a difference.

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Next up is the NW Power & Conservation Council’s draft of the Fish and Wildlife program.   This comes out on approx. May 1st and we will find out if they agree with the over 400 recommendations send in to them last fall asking that the Skykomish River remain protected from hydro power development.  After the draft comes out, there will be another public comment period.

When we read the NPCC draft, we will send out another note with suggested wording so people can send in more comments to NPCC.   Writing comments does matter, even if it gets tiring, so get yourselves ready!   

If you want to review the summary document, on protected rivers, from comments submitted in last fall, it is at this URL:    http://www.nwcouncil.org/media/6894063/6-protected-areas-committee-version.pdf

With SnoPUD studies taking up the next year or so, and the NPCC process underway, the next focus is trying to influence public opinion and the PUD commissioners.   Stopping this project is a long process, but it is our only hope to defeat it.

SnoPUD Dam Not Economically Feasible

Click Here for news release

Click Here for New Study on Costs and Benefits of Sunset Falls Hydro Project

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By placing a $150 million hydropower project on the Skykomish River, the Snohomish County PUD plans to IGNORE both Federal and State comprehensive plans that have repeatedly recognized that hydro power development at Sunset Falls on the Skykomish River is NOT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

Local landowners are OPPOSED TO THE PROJECT, as are local and national conservation groups. Sunset Falls has a long history of being a protected area.

Both the values and the science guiding the Snohomish County PUD’s proposed project are flawed.